Change up your sequence

Hi all, Christopher here.

One of the raps on Kodály-inspired teaching is that it can be rigid.  People think that there is some prescribed method that dictates exactly what you have to teach and when you have to teach it. 

Not true.

The reality is that while Kodály-inspired teaching is methodological and sequential, it doesn’t come in a one-size-fits-all package.  Every teacher has to take the overall principles and apply them to their own setting. 

For me, what that means is that each year, I re-visit my teaching sequence in the fall, when I am doing my long-term planning (see this link for a description of one way to do yearly planning).  Lately, my basic sequence of teaching rhythmic elements has been something like the following:


Why might this sequence change?  Typically, there are two possible reasons: 

(1) It seems that the kids aren't ready for the type of thinking or skill involved in the element.  For example, usually I teach in second grade.  Sometimes, it will happen later in the year or (occasionally) early in grade 3, because the students aren't able to clap the rhythm accurately.  In my context, this can vary from year to year, because some groups of students end up being more (or less) skilled than same-aged students in other years.


(2) The repertoire just might not work for a given group of students.  This mostly occurs in upper elementary.  The period when the too-cool-for-school attitude develops varies widely -- most often, it occurs in the early spring of fifth grade for me, but sometimes it is as early as late fourth grade, and at other times, it never hits at all.

It's this second reason - repertoire - that led me to alter my rhythmic sequence this year.  

Previously, the students have typically learned tam-ti (that's what my students call the dotted quarter-eighth note pattern) in fourth grade.  The repertoire that I use to teach it is fine, but I don’t really sense that the kids in that grade love it.  They can understand the concept cognitively, and can make all the connections they need to be able to do during the preparation steps to become adept pretty quickly – but the repertoire just doesn’t really excite them.  Usually, I don't have a lot of attitude from the kids at that age, but it has become clear to me that they don't particularly like the songs.  
in late fourth grade.

And when it comes down to it, the attitude of the students really matters.  I feel that it is important to choose repertoire that is going to be enjoyable to my students.  I also understand – and express to my students – that an important part of my job is to broaden their sonic sound bases, and that a steady diet of pop music in class isn’t going to stretch them the way I want them to be stretched.  However, with the case of the tam-ti rep, it led to somewhat lackluster teaching-and-learning, where the kids were doing what I wanted them to do, but really just waiting until the next singing game started.

So this year, I’m trying something I’ve never done before, and I’m moving the element to Grade 3.  This year, my third graders will learn ti-ticka in early November, and then the next element that they’ll do is tam-ti.  

The reason that it seems appropriate for third grade is not so that I can "cross this piece of learning off my list," but that I think that the rep that goes with the element will really excite them.  Singing in rounds and canons is a HUGE hit with this particular set of kids, and a lot of my rep for tam-ti can be sung in canon.  (Think Chairs to Mend, All Things Shall Perish, The Birch Tree, and The Bell Doth Toll).  Big Fat Biscuit is a game that all students will love -- plus it’s good for low la, an element that the third graders learn will later in the year.  Changing up my sequence also allows me to select some other repertoire that I haven’t done for a while – John Kanaka and Liza Jane are both classic American songs, but I just haven’t used them for a while.  

As with any change, though, there are......

Potential problems with this change:

(1) Some of the repertoire is in triple meter, which the students haven’t learned yet.  I’m not quite sure how I’ll handle this, because I feel like my curriculum is packed enough without adding another concept.  I am thinking that I’m just going to see if I can put six beats in a row, and that they won’t ask any questions.  We’ll see. 

(2) This rhythmic pattern has two aspects that are brand new: both the dotted quarter note and the single eighth note.  In the past, I’ve taught syn-co-pa (i.e. eighth-quarter-eighth) before tam-ti, and as a part of that process, the students learn that a ti-ti can be broken into two single tis.  So they will need to learn that.  Plus, they will need to learn that if musicians add a dot at the end of a quarter note, it adds half of the preceding value to the note.  Which is confusing enough even to write here.  When I usually teach the element, in late 4th or early 5th grade, most students can figure it out, because they’re working with fractions in their regular class.  But third grade seems a little young to be able to do that sort of thinking, except for the super-high kids.

Might this fail?

    Yes, definitely!    
But that’s part of the fun of teaching – from one day to the next, you never know what’s going to happen!


  1. Hey, your music font doesn't show up. Can you type your sequence out?

    1. Yes! That would be very helpful! Also, I could not follow the link for an example of yearly planning! Hope you can repost this! Thanks!

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    3. Thanks for the heads up! The link is now working, but I'm working on a short-cut to see the notation.

    4. OK, the notation is now (kind of) there, too. And where it's not, I've written the scripted words (tam-ti for dotted quarter-eighth note). Thanks for mentioning it.

  2. Great post, Christopher! Good points about changing depending on your kids (and that Kodaly does not need to be rigid!)


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